Anoka keeping property problems out of court

Anoka’s new administrative citation program is set to go into effect May 1.

The change will have the city handling property maintenance problems administratively, rather than sending them to district court.

“Our goal is compliance,” said Planning Director Carolyn Braun.

And to get the problems fixed as quickly as possible by dealing with them in-house.

In the past, property code violations have been handled by Anoka County District Court. This often turns into a lengthy process that in the end, the courts cannot necessarily fix.

“The courts can’t force someone to comply,” said Braun, although they can issue fines or incarcerate.

But when a citation comes from the city, it will likely encourage the property owner to fix the problem.

“Typically when people get that first citation they think long and hard about it,” said Braun.

These citations only relate to exterior problems on properties.

There is an upside for the violating property owner as well.

“This is designed to be a kinder, gentler and less time consuming process,” said Braun.

With citations a property owner could avoid numerous trips to court, she said.

Spring is when property maintenance complaints start to heat up, ranging from unmowed lawns to incomplete building projects.

Most property maintenance citations are complaint driven, called in by neighbors of the offending property.

But while inspectors are working around the city, they note problems as well, said Braun.

A homeowner will first be notified of a violation with a door knocker or a phone call, which will be followed up with a letter that includes a date the problem must be fixed by.

The length of time allowed depends on the offense, said Braun.

“If it was to clean up trash, it would be relatively short,” she said.

But if siding on a home needed to be completed, the city would allow for more timem, Braun said.

If the problem is not taken care of by the deadline, the property owner would then be assessed a fine.

The fines range from $50 to $1,000 depending on how long the property owner ignores the citations from the city.

Braun said Anoka’s fines are small in comparison with other area cities she surveyed.

Under the new program, there is also an opportunity for the property owner to appeal a citation and request to have a hearing, which would be led by a hearing officer appointed by the city manager. It cannot be a member of city staff.

Based on the evidence provided, the hearing officer can dismiss the citation, impose, stay or waive the fine. The officer can also order the city be allowed to remedy the violation and assess the cost against the property .

“This is a process that has been working very effectively in a lot of other cities,” said Braun.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]